The youthful Left was once the most active antiwar current on campus: recall the days of the Vietnam era antiwar movement, when "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" was heard on college campuses from Berkeley to NYU and all points in between. It was Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that captured the attention and imagination of a generation of youthful activists – and their adult cheerleaders – brought the issue of the Vietnam war to the center of the political stage, and, together with others on the left, forced a sitting Democratic President to retire rather than seek another term.
Those days are long gone. Today, the campus left is a ghost of its former self: there is currently no student organization of what can reasonably be called the "left" with anything close to a nationwide organization. The last gasp of the student left was the Progressive Student Network, founded in 1980, a motley collection of social democrats and former Maoists, which faded out of existence in the mid-1990s. There is today a group calling itself "Students for a Democratic Society" which seems to have a few local activists but no real national presence, as well as a few clots of outright socialist groups such as the Spartacus Youth League (whose unforgettable slogan "Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!" encapsulates its wacky politics) and various other "youth organizations" of aging 1960s Marxist sects, existing on the fringes of campus life.
There are, of course, the Young Democrats and Young Republicans, which exist as fronts for the two "major" parties and are generally seen as kindergartens for aspiring young careerists eager to make their way up the political totem pole. Neither of these groups can reasonably be expected to serve as launching pads for a national anti-war student campaign.
There is, however, one organization that does indeed have a national presence – 380 campus chapters and counting – and has launched what promises to be the most effective anti-war campaign since the 1960s. Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) is the campus group that came out of Ron Paul’s two presidential campaigns, and which has attracted thousands of youthful activists inspired by Ron’s fiery sermons against the War Party, the Federal Reserve, and the daily assault on what’s left of our civil liberties. While the Obama-bots of the Young Democrats celebrate the non-achievements of their Great Leader, and today’s youthful leftists have lost themselves in the winding passageways of identity politics, these young libertarians are carrying the fight against the Warfare State into the public arena with a new nationwide campaign: "A Generation of War." "We’ve grown up with war," they say, "now let’s end it!" And they are taking their campaign to college campuses from coast to coast.
"Warfare impoverishes our bodies, our souls, and our wallets," says Joseph Diedrich, a YAL activist the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Aside from the loss of life in battle, the loss of wealth due to war is unparalleled in its ghastliness," he said. "Imagine the grand improvements in our standard of living that could have been achieved in the past decade had our money, steel, and labor not been squandered on drones, missiles, and fighter jets."
UW-Madison YAL has big plans on April 8: they will be setting up a "Pin the Drone on the Warzone" booth on campus which aims to illustrate "the expansiveness of our intervention across the globe," Diedrich said. Accompanying this interactive lesson in how the Warfare State works will be a "Cost of War" display "memorializing both the human and economic losses perpetrated by war," as Diedrich puts it.
YAL made a big splash at the University of Missouri – not previously known as a hotbed of antiwar radicalism – when they displayed a replica drone in the "free speech zone" on campus. As Jim Chappelow, vice president of the local YAL chapter, explained it:
"The MQ-9 Reaper drone replica display is … a visual aid to bring the reality of Obama’s drone war home. In some parts of the world, deadly drone strikes are a part of everyday life, but most Americans have never even seen one."
It isn’t about drones, per se, says Chappelow:
"Drones are just another technology, which can be used for good or evil. Our concern is that where we see them being used the most is in militaristic aggression abroad and as part of the growing police state here at home."
"Pin the Drone on the War Zone" is making an appearance at Old Dominion University, Thursday March 21st in the Webb University Center, thanks to the efforts of ODU YAL. At UCLA, YAL is bringing the "Generation of War" campaign to the forefront, as is YAL at the Univ. of Wisconsin Whitewater and Middle Tennessee State University YAL. The YAL chapter at Indiana University is gearing up for the "Generation of War" campaign, along with YAL at the University of North Florida, YAL at Tempe University, Indiana University Southeast YAL, YAL at the University of New Hampshire Manchester, YAL at El Camino College, in Torrance, California, and the YAL group at the University of Maine. YAL at the University of North Carolina is teaming up with SDS to present a public forum, "Trading Freedom for Security: Foreign Policy and the War on Terror," on March 20.
Indeed, I could go on, but there are too many events to list individually: suffice to say here that YAL isn’t just a group of young Republicans who want to legalize pot: they are real troublemakers. A recent YAL state convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, featured Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) declaring:
"Congress will not hold anyone to blame. Lyndon Johnson’s probably rotting in hell right now because of the Vietnam War, and he probably needs to move over for Dick Cheney.”
YAL was all over CPAC the other day, with hundreds of young people #StandingwithRand as Sen. Paul addressed the conference. YAL seems to be everywhere these day: fighting for the restoration of our civil liberties at UC San Diego, sponsoring a nationwide speaking tour in defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (featuring Jacob Hornberger and Glenn Greenwald), Young Americans for Liberty is posing a real challenge to both the left and the right with their principled stance on behalf of a non-interventionist foreign policy – and their dedicated activism.
For the first time, really, since the first Iraq war, the voice of a new antiwar movement is being raised on campuses across the country – and its tenor is distinctively (and, yes, radically) libertarian.
YAL has been holding a series of state conventions, and its profile as an organization has never been higher. If you are a college or high school student, now is the time to join the troublemakers and make some trouble of your own.
Living in the imperial metropolis, American youth are largely unaware of the horrors visited on their counterparts abroad by our government, crimes committed in our name and with our tax dollars: and it isn’t just drones. The whole panoply of Washington’s "regime change" operations, from covert activities to open threats of military aggression, is a curse on the planet. YAL is bringing awareness of this vital issue to a new generation of potential troublemakers – who will hopefully make plenty of trouble for our arrogant rulers in the years to come.
The movement created by Ron Paul has been the biggest boon to the faltering antiwar movement since the 1960s youth radicalization – but this time the focus is on ideas rather than any "cultural revolution," and specifically the idea that human beings have a right to exist without being regimented, robbed, and/or murdered by the US government. The libertarian youth revolution is on the march, and YAL is its vanguard. All you college and high school students out there who want to do something for the cause of peace and liberty – go forth and join your fellow troublemakers.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I’m having great fun on Twitter and I urge you to join me on this wonderfully interactive site: you can do so by going here.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).